The Lodge (2019)

Director: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz

Writers: Sergio Casci, Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz

Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Lieberher, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone

Producers: Aliza James, Simon Oakes, Aaron Ryder

Music: Danny Bensi, Saunders Jurriaans

Cinematography: Thimios Bakatakis

Editors: Michael Palm

Cert: 15 (TBC)

Running time: 100mins

Year: 2019

What’s the story: The teenage Aidan (Lieberher) and his younger sister Mia (McHugh) spend the run-up to Christmas in an isolated lodge with their dad’s new partner, Grace (Keough). Strange events soon begin to take a psychological toll.

What’s the verdict: Filmmaking duo Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s follow their 2014 cult hit Goodnight Mommy with another dark tail of parent-child conflict, presented under the Hammer Films banner.

Similar in claustrophobic hold to Hereditary – miniature house and dolls foreshadowing doom, destructive family ties, sudden tragic death – its assured tone and successful story twists make it superior to Ari Aster’s debut.

Lieberher (young Bill Densborough in the IT movies) and McHugh shine as the siblings, resentful of dad Richard (Armitage) for taking up with Grace. Blaming the new woman for the collapse of his marriage to their mother (Silverstone), the brother and sister are less than thrilled when Richard suggests they all spend the holidays in a family lodge. Particularly as he must leave them alone for a few days in the run-up to Christmas.

Not that Aidan and Mia aren’t totally without reason to be wary of Grace, a childhood survivor of an apocalypse cult about which Richard has written a book. Archive camcorder footage on dad’s computer shows a young Grace making a series of grim discoveries, which must have left their mark, right?

But, Grace’s mental state takes second place to mysterious occurrences that begin plaguing the house, testing all three of them.

Alongside Hereditary, The Lodge also invites comparisons with Kubrick’s The Shining. Particularly as Fiala and Franz favour starkly formal compositions, typically centre framed and slowly pushing in to enclose characters in ever tighter spaces. In a nice architectural touch, a house Grace discovers across a frozen lake outside the lodge seems to be a nod to the poster for British horror gem, The Borderlands.

Yet, this is no empty pastiche for past horror greats. A tight script keeps character motivations believably murky as Grace and the siblings aren’t thrilled to be in each other’s company. Murkier still are signs of the supernatural, which may be explained by Grace’s fragile mental state or signs of something more malevolent descending.

Audiences are kept constantly on their toes and frequently knocked off them with sudden shocks and moments of pure terror. Organ music can be scary, but rarely is it this scary. Yorgos Lanthimos’ cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis provides the bleakly beautiful visuals, including a nocturnal gloom so dense it is genuinely alarming when shapes emerge from it.

A twisted religion subplot is more than just blood-and-thunder window dressing, running through the plot from unsettling beginning to sweaty-palmed climax.

A horror movie that lodges itself in the mind and refused to budge.

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
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